It’s no secret that the US government wanted to kill Fidel Castro many times over the years. But there’s a crazy story about a possible CIA assassination attempt that I’d never heard before: Giving Castro a diving suit that would be contaminated with tuberculosis.
The National Security Archive has a new post about lawyer James Donovan, the real life figure depicted by Tom Hanks in the movie Bridge of Spies. After the Cuban missile crisis in October of 1962, Donovan engaged in secret negotiations with Castro. Under the direction of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Donovan was trying to secure the release of over 1100 prisoners held by Cuba after the CIA had screwed up the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
Donovan was meeting with Castro during the first half of 1963. And one April 1963 trip gave the CIA an opportunity to present Castro with a rather unique gift: Tuberculosis. Donovan had planned to give Castro a diving suit as a gift since both men liked to go diving. But a lawyer at the CIA, Milan Miskovsky, warned Donovan that some people at the agency might try to tamper with it.
From the National Security Archive:
But the most sinister episode came when a team of CIA officers decided that they could use Donovan’s unique access to Castro to assassinate the Cuban leader. The declassified CIA history mentions only in a footnote on page 137 that “at some point during Donovan’s negotiations with Castro” several officials in the covert operations division “devised a plan to have Donovan be the unwitting purveyor of a diving suit and breathing apparatus, respectively contaminated with Madura foot fungus and tuberculosis bacteria, as a gift for Castro.” The plot was shelved after Miskovsky alerted Donovan to secure the diving suit he had already obtained for Castro to prevent any tampering and contamination by the “executive action” side of the CIA.
The truly devious part, aside from the assassination of a world leader, was perhaps that Donovan would have no idea he would be carrying a diving suit laced with TB. It all sounds like something out of another Hollywood movie called The Chairman, which was released in 1969. In that film, Gregory Peck plays a spy who meets Mao Zedong but has no idea that the chip implanted in his body is an explosive device meant to kill Mao.
The CIA never had the opportunity to go through with their plan to contaminate Castro’s diving suit with TB, but there were plenty of other plans. Donovan did indeed go diving with Castro in April of 1963, as you can see from the photo above, but the gifted diving suit wasn’t laced with anything.
In the early 1960s, the US military drafted some terrifying ideas to invade Cuba under false pretences. So it’s no surprise that the American military and intelligence establishment wanted Castro dead. But just when you think there aren’t any more stories to uncover about Cold War Cuba, you get one about CIA snorkels.
History is weird.
Top image: Fidel Castro scuba diving at the Bay of Pigs on a trip with American James Donovan in 1963 (National Security Archive)